MANAMA, (Reuters) – Bahrain sentenced eight prominent Shi’ite Muslim activists and opposition leaders to life in prison yesterday on charges of plotting a coup during protests in the Gulf island kingdom earlier this year.
The sentencing stoked tensions in the kingdom, where small groups of demonstrators have held daily protests since emergency law was lifted on June 1, and may undermine a national dialogue planned by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to start next month.
“No dialogue with al-Khalifa! We demand the release of the prisoners,” shouted some 100 protesters in one village near the capital Manama, before riot police broke up the demonstration.
In all 21 defendants, six of them tried in absentia, were charged with plotting to overthrow the government by force in collusion with “a terrorist organisation” working for a foreign country. They can appeal the sentences. Seconds after the verdict was issued, one of the defendants lined up in grey prison suits shouted: “We will continue our peaceful struggle.” Other defendants responded by shaking their fists and shouting “peaceful, peaceful”.
Policemen hustled them from the courtroom. Some relatives responded by chanting the Muslim rallying cry “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) and one woman was dragged out of the chamber. Among those who received life sentences was Shi’ite dissident Hassan Mushaimaa, leader of the hardline opposition group Haq, and Abduljalil al-Singace, from the same party. Haq joined two other groups in calling for the overthrow of the monarchy during mass protests in February and March.
Abdel Wahab Hussain, head of Wafa, another group that called for a republic, was also jailed for life. Ibrahim Sharif, Sunni Muslim leader of the secular leftist Waad party, received five years in prison. Waad and Bahrain’s largest Shi’ite opposition group Wefaq had called for reform of the monarchy.